And stay focused and calm, no matter what a debt collector may say. "Stick with the facts," Detweiler says. "Be a broken record."
Don't be afraid to negotiate. Times are tight and debt collectors are looking for whatever payments they can get. There is a good chance you can work out a deal to pay less than the full amount.
"Start right out of the gate offering 10 percent to 15 percent of what they say you owe," Ulzheimer says. "Then, probably settle somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 percent to 50 percent."
Detweiler says before you pay, be sure to get details of the deal sent to you in writing. Once you've gotten written confirmation of the agreement, you can send your payment. Be sure to pay with a cashier's check rather than a personal check.
"Do not under any circumstances provide debt collectors with access to your bank account," Suher says.
Another negotiation strategy is to offer a debt collector a payment-for-deletion deal. You agree to pay a debt collector the full payment and the debt collector agrees to remove the collection account from your credit report. The debt collector would contact the credit bureaus directly to remove the debt, Detweiler says.
According to the Federal Trade Commission and the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center, this practice is not illegal but it is frowned upon by credit reporting agencies. Many debt collectors may refuse to do it.
"If you're lucky enough to get a debt collector to agree to a pay-for-deletion (deal), get it in writing in advance," Detweiler says.
A payment-for-deletion deal is one strategy for coping with an accurate bill that was lost or forgotten but is now in collection. Getting a collection account removed from your credit report should give a big boost to your credit rating.
"If there's a legitimate excuse, I encourage consumers to push back hard to try to get them deleted," Detweiler says. "These deals are worked out."
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